Since before the founding of BioLogos (BL), we have been engaged in dialogue with representatives from Reasons to Believe (RTB). RTB is the most prominent organization promoting the “old-earth creationism” viewpoint (also called “progressive creationism”). Their long-time president, Hugh Ross, is an astrophysicist by training who started RTB in 1986 to show people the scientific trustworthiness of Scripture, and thereby persuade them to follow Christ. RTB advocates for the same position as BL on the age of the earth and universe, but we disagree on the science of evolution (understood in terms of common descent of all creatures), and this disagreement has given us plenty to talk about!
There had been informal interactions between scholars now associated with RTB and BL since the early 1990s. Once BioLogos was founded, those interactions became more frequent and more directed. The first meeting actually happened in Francis Collins’s own home in January of 2010. The introduction of the book describes the four goals that were agreed upon at this meeting.
- Clarify for each other our beliefs about and positions on various aspects of creation and evolution.
- Outline the means by which at least some of the more significant differences between us could be resolved.
- Set up public forums that will allow both Christians and non-Christians to learn about our respective positions on specific creation and evolution issues, observe our dialogue, and then engage in conversation with us.
- Consider how our interactions with one another might model for the Christian community how to approach differences in perspective and interpretation.
Several other such meetings took place over the course of the next five years, and they began involving professors at Southern Baptist seminaries, who acted sometimes as the audience for our dialogues, sometimes as the chorus of a Greek drama (chiming in with interesting insights not offered by the participants themselves), sometimes as moderators to keep the discussion moving in helpful directions.
The first of these meetings in which I participated was held at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in 2014. I was still fairly new to BioLogos and didn’t know any of the Reasons to Believe representatives personally. What initially surprised me about the meeting was its cordiality. We sat around a square, not with BL on one side and RTB on the other, but interspersed with each other and the Southern Baptist seminary professors. I wasn’t surprised that we began with prayer, as that is sometimes the only way Christians know how to start a meeting. But this wasn’t just perfunctory; it was genuine. And after that, a student from the seminary came into the room and sat at the piano and we all sang some worship songs together. This was not like any “debate” I had been to before.
Of course, we did have dialogue about the issues on which we disagreed, but the goal was not to win an argument or not even really to persuade the opposing side to accept our beliefs. Rather, it was to understand the other side better. This hit a high point for me the first evening when we went to supper at a restaurant in the French Quarter and had an extended time of sharing our testimonies with each other. These were not opponents, but brothers and sisters in Christ.
This sort of interaction among those in the origins business is all too rare, and we decided we’d try to demonstrate it to and model it for the public. There were public conversations on several occasions and now we’ve produced a book which is soon to be released on InterVarsity Press. To be honest, we’ve discovered it is one thing to share privately with people we’ve come to know and respect, and another thing to say publicly or to put one’s thoughts about the “other side” down in print for the whole world to see. That brought with it a new set of difficulties to work through. But thanks be to God, we did work through them.
I’ve been so pleased to serve as an editor on the book, alongside Ken Keathley (from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) and Joe Aguirre (of RTB). Each chapter begins with an introduction by a Southern Baptist seminary professor, who introduces a topic and poses a question; then representatives from BL and RTB each answer the question in about 2000 words. The Southern Baptist moderator then asks each side a follow-up question on the topic, and they get 1000 words each to respond. Finally, the moderator writes a conclusion. In this way, we move through eleven topics ranging from biblical interpretation and Adam and Eve, to the problem of evil and divine action, to genetics, fossil evidence, and the uniqueness of human beings.
All of the contributors to the book had been participants in the private meetings, and so we hope the personal friendship that developed is conveyed in the midst of arguments and evidence showing where we disagree. For me, the greatest benefit of this project has been that personal friendship. When you’ve prayed together, and shared meals together, and sung worship songs to our common Lord, it is very difficult to be snippy at each other over the internet. If this project does nothing other than modelling a more productive way for Christians to disagree, then it will have been time very well spent.
This month on the blog we’re going to feature several excerpts from the book, in the hopes that they’ll entice to you get the whole thing, read it, and share it with others.